|If you are in the customer service industry, then you’ve had to handle an irate or down-right rude customer or two in your time. These encounters can be draining, frustrating, and annoying experiences for both parties — the customer and you. Getting through the conversation, or monologue, can be a challenge all of its own.
But you have an opportunity at this point to make a difference for someone. Besides salvaging a customer and preventing a potential outbreak of negativity, it can be a wonderful feeling when you can help someone fix a problem or even simply make the experience positive despite the customer’s bad attitude. So here are some tips to get you through a conversation with an angry or rude customer. And while most customers only get livid behind the safety of a phone call, the following pointers can also help with face-to-face encounters.
1. Be Respectful
This is a critical moment in the conversation: an angry customer has called and he is lashing out due to something you have zero control over. It’s very easy to lose your own temper, especially when the customer is making the issue personal. Or maybe the customer has decided to passive aggressively throw some insults at you because he had trouble finding a product or the product didn’t meet his expectations.
Wait for it. Once they have had a chance to vent, most angry customers will back down and let you help them. That’s why they called, after all. No matter how hard it is, be respectful. They may have been on hold for awhile before finally getting to you and need to get their frustration out.
2. Listen Carefully
Even while the customer is at the most upset point in her monologue, listen carefully to what is being said. This accomplishes several things at once: it helps you focus on the words, you are better able to ignore the tone, and you can avoid making her repeat herself later. Take notes and listen for patterns. Is shesaying the same thing over and over or is she actually referring to several different issues?
3. Parrot the Problem
Once the customer has calmed down, it’s time to let him know you’ve been listening. Explaining what you understand the problem is to him in a calm manner can go a long way to helping him understand that you have been listening and know what his issues are. Repeating back what you understand are the issues also helps you make sure you are dealing with all the issues. Sometimes customers do not initially express the full extent of the problem — only the part that makes them the most angry.
4. Simple Solutions
Often an irate customer’s problem can be solved with a simple solution. She’s probably not the first to have the issue, so often there is a really easy fix available. After she has had a chance to vent, carefully offer an initial solution. Be careful because you do not want to patronize the customer. Avoid the overly simplistic solutions, like "Have you powered the device on" unless the situation is clearly calling for it. Offering simple solutions is often necessary, but approach this carefully and with sincerity so you can avoid insulting a customer who may not have cooled down just yet.
5. Provide Information
If a simple solution is not available, then you may have to work with the customer to explore the problem more fully. By providing him with information about the product or service, you can start to work through at what point the problem occurred. This is an important step and gives you the opportunity to demonstrate that you are an expert and that you care enough to work with the customer.
6. Find Resources
If you cannot solve the problem for the customer, then you are either going to have to send her to someone who can help or take some time to find a solution. If the customer called on the phone, you may have to forward her to a specialist or tell her you will call her back. Unfortunately, this can really irritate an already frustrated customer. The best way to handle this situation is to tell her you are not passing her off onto someone else. Even better, give her your extension so she can call you back directly if no one else helps or if she runs into roadblocks.
7. Follow Up
Finally, follow up with the customer. This is especially helpful if you have had to forward him to someone else for a resolution. Even if you do not actually talk with him directly during the follow-up, shooting him an email or leaving a voicemail letting him know you wanted to make sure his issue was resolved will mean a lot. You may even want to keep some greeting cards on hand with a custom handwritten note for these situations. Sometimes this extra little act can of following up make a customer feel even more attached to a company after the incident because you have made him feel valued and heard.
Fight It Out (Not)
Finally, the one thing to always keep in mind when dealing with a rude or angry customer is to never resort to a word war. Some customers can get very nasty with throwing insults at you, the one who is trying to help. It can be very tempting to begin throwing insults right back at her. No matter what it takes, resist this temptation. If you are an employee, you could lose your job. If you are the owner, you could forever ruin your reputation and more business than your company can handle, especially if the customer has lots of friends and influence. If you feel yourself on the edge, excuse yourself, put the phone on hold or walk into the employee room. Then ask for backup if needed. Sometimes all that may be needed to deflate the situation is a short break and some support.
One recent, and very relevant example of company destroying, awful customer service, can be found at posted at Penny-Arcade.com. The incident involves the owner of a marketing company (Ocean Marketing) who proceeded to fly off the handle at a customer, and ended up losing a major marketing deal, as well as destroying his company’s reputation. You can read about the antics here.